Bank Foods caught up with chef Nina Parker on her european food creation. Her path is very unique and distinct from current trends. Here is the conversation we had over a pot of earl grey tea.
Hello who are you and how are you?
Hi Bank Foods! My name is Nina Parker and I’m pretty good thanks!!
What did you have for breakfast?
It’s a Friday so I treated myself to an Aubaine pain au chocolat and cappuccino.
What’s your favourite dish to eat (any country)?
That’s pretty much an impossible question to answer for me but something I always fall back on is a delicious plate of pasta. Just so comforting!
Which cuisine do you enjoy making most?
I love to get obsessed with a cuisine for a few months and learn everything I possibly can about it. I think that is why I enjoy cooking so much because you are always learning whether you are finding out about new techniques or ingredients, you can never get bored. I have a certain fondness for French and Italian though as that is where my books are based and the kitchens I have trained in.
What’s your favourite drink (alcohol & non-alcohol)?
I’m not really into soft drinks except water which I carry around with me at all times. If I’m out then I’ll probably order an espresso martini or a dark and stormy.
What is the worst food combination you have come across?
I once had to make coronation chicken ice cream and it’s one of the flavours that I had a hard time having to try. It didn’t work out and we didn’t put it on the menu. Phew!
What is your concept of NINA Food and how did you come up with it?
NINA Food can be anything from catering for a private dinner to a popup restaurant night to an event with my 1970’s ice cream van, to creating recipes for websites to the cookbooks. It’s anything that I happen to be doing at the moment. My food it rustic, unfussy, colourful, modern but presented in a classic way. I take inspiration from wherever I am, whether on holiday in a restaurant or in London or from finding a beautiful ingredient.
What were the difficulties in introducing french and Italian cuisine to a saturated market?
There is already a large market for both of those cuisines so there is a big demand for both. I think the difficulty is what makes your food better or different to what’s already out there and that is why I have tried to create a bold narrative in the books. I wanted the books to be more than just recipe books and I wanted them to have a strong sense of place with beautiful location shots and many restaurant recommendations bringing the recipes to life.
Is there any other cuisine that you would like to venture into?
Spanish, Scandinavian, American, Asian…the list goes on!
What were you doing before all the kitchen training and how did you get to where you are now?
I studied French and Spanish at Leeds University and after I met a guy working at Wimbledon Tennis who introduced me to the Head Chef, Francesco Mazzei at L’Anima in Liverpool Street. I was always interested in food but wasn’t sure what I wanted to do and thought I’d just give it try working in a kitchen. Mazzei said that he would teach me everything as long as I showed a passion for food. I did a 7 month stage and fell in love with the amazing produce and the rustic style of cooking. Someone dropped out in the starters so I took over and got a job after 2 months and after that I knew that I wanted to carry on working in the kitchen. I worked in various London kitchens for 3 years before setting up my company in 2012.
Even though you studied French and Spanish at uni, did you always wanted to go into food?
I had a passion for great food, particularly for sweets but I was definitely just an amateur cook. I did know that I wanted to have my own business of some kind from quite an early age and I loved the way that languages could open up a lot of doors.
You setted up your own food business, NINA Food. Why this and not the usual restaurant?
The idea of a restaurant freaked me out quite a lot as its a huge amount of money to lay down and this way I could test the water without the huge risk. I would still like to have some kind of permanent place at some point so hopefully in the future.
What were the difficulties at the start of your business?
I think the most difficult thing is just having the self belief that it will work. Once you have that covered you are almost sorted. This is why I went to work in commercial kitchens because I wanted to have a strong culinary background and knowledge behind me. All my previous experience gave me the confidence to start on my own.
What are your responsibilities as a food company owner?
Always making sure you keep high standards of food quality. I have created a brand where I promise the food to be delicious and for people to have a great food-experience from me and so I need to deliver every time.
What are the challenges of being a business owner?
Leaning how to be an excellent hustler.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
I love dreaming up and creating recipes. Also there is nothing better that when someone seriously enjoys your food. I sorta live for that. Who doesn’t love a compliment?!
What’s your secret in attracting customers?
I suppose Instagram although it’s not a secret. It drives a lot of business for me.
What key lessons have you learnt about running a food business?
To never give up. You have good weeks and tough weeks. This is something I have to always remind myself about because after a few hard times you often have something amazing happen quite soon after.
We love both of your cookbooks St Tropez and Capri, what do you think makes a good cookbook?
Ah fanks! I think having a clear brand, style and making it personal to you. You have to be passionate and knowledgeable about the subject.
Grab the books here!
Was it difficult coming up with an idea for the second book?
I had the idea for Capri before I even started writing St Tropez. My first idea that I took to the publisher was that you could do a series of books from different cool places.
What do you attribute to your success?
Ha! I don’t know how successful I am but I do work very hard at what I do.
How do you balance work/leisure?
Luckily everyone has to eat at least 3 times a day so my work overlaps into my normal life quite easily and non intrusively. I think one of the things about having your own business is that you do have to be thinking about it all the time to make it work. This is why you have to absolutely love it so it’s not a chore or a bother.
Best way to destress from the kitchen?
A game of tennis and a Nutella crumpet. In that order!
What advice would you give to someone who wants to open a food/catering business?
Get the experience and knowledge of food first. Working in a kitchen is the best!
What are your thoughts on the new wave of “clean eating” food trends?
I’m a bit over all the chat to be honest!
If you could fuse 2 different cuisines, which would you choose?
I’ve never been asked that before. I’m not a huge fan of fusions as I find them a little hit and miss so I’m going to say something really weird like Nordic-Brazilian. Now that’s a challenge!
Hoping for a third book. Fingers crossed!
Where are you going now?
I’m about to make the long journey to my kitchen.